Islamabad, Pakistan: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has declared that the coronavirus is “not a pandemic in Pakistan”, ordering the government to reopen businesses seven days a week and forcing a provincial government to reopen shopping malls.
Pakistan’s federal government welcomed the court’s orders, made during a hearing into the government’s coronavirus response plan in the capital, Islamabad, on Monday.
“There are other serious ailments prevailing in the country, from which people are dying daily and those ailments are not being catered and the Coronavirus (COVID-19), which apparently is not a pandemic in Pakistan, is swallowing so huge money,” read Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed’s order.
On Monday, countrywide coronavirus cases rose by 1,841 to 43,966, with 35 deaths taking the death toll since the outbreak began to 939, government data showed.
In recent days, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has loosened many lockdown restrictions, allowing smaller markets to reopen five days a week during daylight hours. This week, shopping malls in three of the country’s four provinces were due to reopen.
At Monday’s hearing, Ahmed ordered the government of Sindh province – where Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi is located and which has seen almost 40 percent of all coronavirus cases in the country – to reopen malls, following provinces controlled by Khan’s party.
Mall management companies welcomed the announcement.
“Looking forward to welcoming Dolmen families starting tomorrow – 19th May, from 9:00 AM!” tweeted the Dolmen Malls management group, which operates one of Pakistan’s largest malls in Karachi.
Provincial authorities, meanwhile, were more circumspect in their response to the orders.
“Hoping sanity prevails in the highest court of our land,” said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chief of the Pakistan People’s Party, which controls Sindh’s government. “I don’t want to believe that the superior judiciary would pass any judgment endangering the health and lives of the people of Pakistan.”
The federal government, however, welcomed the decision, with Information Minister Shibli Faraz saying it was a vindication of a continuing policy of easing the lockdown to address economic concerns.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has from day one been saying, and all of the measures we have taken, they are a continuation and they show clarity and a practical approach,” said Faraz at a news conference. “You have to create a balance between lives and the economy.”
At a high-level meeting chaired by the prime minister on Monday, the federal government allowed the resumption of train services across the country, with directives in place to ensure social distancing. A meeting of the federal cabinet to discuss further responses to the coronavirus pandemic was due on Tuesday.
The Supreme Court’s orders contradicted the government’s earlier decision to limit the opening of shops and other businesses to five days a week, saying they must be allowed to operate on Saturday and Sunday as well.
“We do not find any justifiable rational or reasonable classification on the basis of which these two days are excluded from doing business, for that, all days of the week are the same,” read the order.